Government urged to release secret adoption files

Philomena Lee Project calls on the State to grant access to over 60,000 records

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in a scene from the film Philomena.

Judi Dench and Steve Coogan in a scene from the film Philomena.


Sorcha Pollak

The Irish Government has been called on to release over 60,000 secret adoption files to assist adult children, now living abroad, in tracing their natural families.

Philomena Lee, whose story was protrayed in the Oscar-nominated film Philomena, will be in Dublin this Friday to launch The Philomena Project. The Project, set up by Ms Lee and her daughter, is working with the Adoption Rights Alliance to call on the Irish State to grant access to adoption records for grown-up children living in Ireland and the US.

The alliance claims the HSE, private adoption agencies, and church representatives are currently in possession of these adoption files.

“The strength, courage and dignity of Philomena Lee has acted as a touchstone for all of those affected by forced and illegal adoptions,” said Susan Lohan, co-founder of Adoption Rights Alliance which campaigns for human and civil rights for those affected by Ireland’s closed adoption system. “Her story … has woken up many people to the crimes committed against thousands of unmarried mothers and their children under the guise of so-called legal adoption.”

Ms Lee became pregnant when she was 18 years old. She was sent to the Sean Ross Abbey, a Mother and Baby Home in Roscrea, Tipperary, where she gave birth to her son in July 1952. When her son was three-years-old he was taken from her, sold for adoption, and sent to the US. After she left the convent, Ms Lee’s father refused to take her back and she ended up moving to the UK.

She and her lost son spent years searching for one another, but were deliberately kept apart and never reunited. Ms Lee is now determined to use the public support from her story to urge the Irish Government to release all information they have on these adoptions, and to assist mothers and children in their attempt to find one another.

Martin Sixsmith, a journalist and author of The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, said that when writing the book he was struck by the “scale of the problem ” in Ireland. He also commented on the “human suffering” he encountered when speaking to people affected by the adoptions - “Mothers like Philomena who have spent decades looking for their lost children; and the children themselves, now grown up but still longing to find the mother they were parted from.”

Maeve O’ Rourke, a barrister who has worked with the Justice for Magdalenes’ campaign in calling for reparations for survivors of the Magdalene Laundries, has highlighted that a child should be entitled to the basic human right of preserving “her identity and family relations without unlawful interference.” She says Ireland needs to apply its “commitment to human rights standards” at home as well as abroad.

The Philomena Project plans to lobby Irish, UK and US politicians and relevant international bodies such as the UN, to open records and obtain birth certificates for children living abroad.

“It is my hope that this effort will help us find solutions that ensure every mother and child who want to be reunited are able to come together once again,” said Ms Lee.